The Streetcar to the Atlanta BeltLine is the Right Track

This article originally appeared in the May 12, 2015 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is republished here with permission.

The Streetcar to the Atlanta BeltLine is the Right Track

By Paul Morris

The City of Atlanta is the economic heart of the region and a connection point for residents, visitors, and commuters from all over Georgia. The Atlanta Streetcar, as a component of a comprehensive transit plan, serves the metro area’s 5 million residents by strengthening Atlanta’s competitive advantage and spurring economic development that radiates outward from the city. The more than 200,000 riders that have used the streetcar since opening day in December 2014 prove that Atlantans, young and old, from all walks of life, want this opportunity for transit expansion.

The Atlanta Streetcar’s first 2.7 miles of track are a result of a partnership between the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and MARTA. More than $568 million in private investment has developed within a quarter mile from the route since 2011, with $859 million more in the pipeline. This economic development has brought life back to some of the city’s most historic sites, including the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in the Old Fourth Ward. This development expands Atlanta’s economic base, increasing the city’s capacity for growth and contributing to its prosperity.

Additionally, the Atlanta Streetcar fuels transit-oriented development in the form of density and mixed-use projects within the Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD). Density within the TAD contributes to funding in order to complete the Atlanta BeltLine.

With this early success and ridership exceeding expectations by more than 20 percent, it’s never too soon to look ahead to Atlanta’s future. In fact, with Dallas, Charlotte and Salt Lake City all experiencing similar success with modern streetcar systems, it is in our best interest to make sure that Atlanta continues its forward momentum. Teams from the City and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. have been hard at work developing a comprehensive streetcar plan to connect all parts of Atlanta, and last week, we brought the updated Atlanta Streetcar System Plan to the public. This comprehensive plan complements MARTA and improves mobility for everyone in Atlanta.

The System Plan envisions 50 miles of track and six streetcar lines, connecting neighborhoods, business centers, and attractions. The plan enhances transit options for Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Atlanta University Center students and faculty. The thriving districts in northwest Atlanta will have direct access to the revitalized areas of southeast Atlanta, and vice versa, opening up the restaurants, retail and amenities of the city in brand new ways. A north/south line will serve key destinations such as Buckhead, Piedmont Hospital, Woodruff Arts Center, the Fox Theatre and Fort McPherson. The future Westside Reservoir Park will connect to Historic Fourth Ward Park and Ponce City Market. The System Plan is designed to provide first and last mile connectivity by integrating with MARTA and providing a continuous network across and around the Atlanta BeltLine.

Bringing the Atlanta Streetcar into the Atlanta BeltLine reintroduces historic routes and legacy corridors that make up the landscape of this city. The 22-mile loop around the city will connect with MARTA and the crosstown streetcar lines, closing gaps in public transportation in key areas of Atlanta. Environmental work is underway for 16 miles of track that will connect Piedmont Park to Reynoldstown on the east side, Adair Park to Maddox Park on the west side, and cross the city by way of North Avenue/Hollowell Parkway.

Mayor Reed‘s vision is to connect the downtown Atlanta Streetcar with the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine , providing connectivity with an additional 1.5 miles of track. The transformation of the Old Fourth Ward and Sweet Auburn support this expansion, bringing visitors right to the doorsteps of business owners in these neighborhoods.

As you can see, the Atlanta BeltLine is not just about trails. Transit stimulates meaningful value to the city, and the economic development potential for both projects will benefit our city’s future. The Atlanta Streetcar will provide one of the most comprehensive and modern transit networks in the nation, using the Atlanta BeltLine as a conduit for circling the city.

As Atlantans, it is time for us to move beyond the conversation of traffic congestion and endless roadways. Our interstate and surface streets are here to stay, but developing a system that helps support the city’s potential for growth is absolutely essential, and the Atlanta Streetcar is a critical component of that development.

Paul Morris is the President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

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